Breaking the mold

Contrary to what non-dressage riders think, there is a lot more to it than just riding around in circles and boring the horse into submission. It is hard to describe the levels of unison one reaches with a dressage horse. Years ago, I did ballroom dancing and when you are “dancing” with a horse, you reach a level of communication that goes even beyond what two humans can achieve. I love my dressage, I really do.

But sometimes, you have to break the mold a little bit, let loose and have some fun! So today, I did just that! I was supposed to interview someone for the book I am writing on the human-horse relationship and have been struggling since the end of last year to get hold of her. Today, I finally got to meet her and you won’t believe it, I never got to do my interview! Instead, I relived a little bit of my crazy youth.

Since I can remember, my mother has drilled into us: “Always take something warm, even in the middle of summer, because the weather can suddenly change and you don’t want to be caught unprepared!” Visiting horsey people and places I have been caught unprepared too many times, so now I am in the habit of carrying a bag with riding gear in my car wherever I go. It came in handy today.

While we were supposed to be talking about the relationship between equines and people, she was trying to organise a ride for some horses over some cross-country jumps. I don’t normally invite myself along, but without thinking I heard myself say: “I brought riding gear.”

Let me just state that I have not jumped a cross-country fence since the year 2005 and since I have had kids I have jumped nothing higher than my knee! But I went out there today and jumped bigger than I have ever jumped in my life. A few times I thought to myself: “Shit, I think I might die now.” The great thing was though, that I didn’t spend too much time overthinking anything and decided that if the horse was willing to jump (and she was very willing), all I had to do was stay on top. I managed to do that and live to tell the tale! Afterwards we took all the horses to swim in a dirt dam to cool off. I haven’t done any of this stuff since I was a kid.

These are the sorts of things my friends and I did when I was little. We would spend all day out on our horses, jumping anything we could find and them take them for a swim in a dam. (Any damn we could find, really!)

I was a great day and it felt good to break the mold a little bit! But tomorrow it’s back to my 60×20!


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Feeling grim

Today I decided that human beings are deep down, basically shit. The friends that make promises don’t keep them. The people that are there for you when you actually need help are not the ones that have claimed to be your friend and have your back. They are the ones that happen to be around you and can offer help because it suits them at that particular time. No-one will actually go out of their way and inconvenience themselves for you. No. You can’t count on anybody!

Yesterday I dropped my son at school and arrived to find three 6-year-old girls in the midst of histrionics. One had called the other “the ugliest person in the world.” What on earth causes a child that young to want to inflict so much pain on someone else? I am not a psychologist, so I don’t actually know, but I know that if someone that young is doing it, there must be some part of that type of behaviour that is simply in-born. It is just our nature to be cruel.

A couple of weeks ago, my son came home and explained how he and his friend (The only one he has made since going to school. Yes, he still cries every Monday I drop him off and sometimes he even bursts into tears on a random Thursday, because he really just doesn’t want to be there.) are gathering some seeds from a certain tree at school, the friend is making them into bracelets and he (my son) will paint them, and then they will sell them and share the profit. I even spoke to the other boy’s mother and told her how clever I thought our boys were. Today, we arrive and that same boy is selling bracelets. He has decided to cut my son out of the “business” and go it alone.

Once again, my heart breaks for my little brown-eyed boy who puts so much trust in what other people tell him they will do. Because it is a lesson we must all learn at some point, I suppose: that we simply cannot trust the word of other people and that they will hardly ever do the things they promise, if it means sacrificing something of themselves. But I thought six was a little young to learn such a hard lesson…

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Learning and growing all the time.

Once in a while, you have a ride that reminds you how far you have come and how much you have grown not only as a rider, but as a person. Yesterday was one of those days. It was an uncharacteristically rainy day for summer in the Western Cape. The horses were feeling frisky and bouncy as we are in the middle of a drought and it is only natural that they would be “happy” about the rain.

I was riding a young thoroughbred off the track. We were the only ones riding and we barely got around the outside of the arena when all the horses in the paddocks decided it was time for a run to show their glee with the wonderful cool weather. The horse I was on, being a trained race horse, and with that the only thing she really knows how to do, decided that she needed to be running too. If we could have had a conversation at that point, it would have gone something like this:

“Oooh, the other horses are running! I should be running!”

“No, I think we should just keep walking”

“But that is what I was taught, I know this one! We have to go, lady!”

“NO, I think we should slow down and talk about this” I pull on the reins for a slow-down.

“No, no, NO! You are starting to get in the way of what I know I should do and I don’t like it! In fact, you are trying to stop my feet from moving and it is making me downright panicky! You are acting an awful lot like a predator on my back and I am starting to think I should get rid of you.” Horse gives a little buck.

Some people I know, and myself included a few years ago, would have just sat the bucking horse and ridden her through it, thinking that getting off would teach her that every time she misbehaves, the rider gets off. In some cases this may still be true, but in this particular case it wasn’t. If I had had a strong enough relationship with her, I might still have tried to lean on that and asked her to ignore her instincts and listen to me. The point is, we don’t have that strong a relationship and she was starting to get panicky. And the chances of something going horribly wrong were escalating exponentially.

There are many permutations of how things could have happened from there on out.  No matter what I chose to do, if that choice involved staying on her, she was going to be more frightened by the end of it. I chose to do an emergency dismount, lead her to the lunge ring and did some long-lining instead. Even from the ground it took a long time to get her to settle down and listen to me. But, I did get her to stop and pay attention and there were no big frights involved. I patted myself on the back.

Instead of thinking:”I will sit on this horse and we will go for a ride. She will learn to deal with someone on her back no matter the circumstances.”, I managed to choose the compassionate and less egotistical way around it that would in the end serve the horse and her education better. She had a workout and her trust in me is a little more, because I removed her from a situation that she deemed threatening.

Perhaps next time, I will take the weather into account from the start and begin in the lunge ring!

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Starting School…again!

Twenty years ago this year, I was in my final year of high school. This morning I dropped my first-born off for his first day of grade 1. I didn’t expect to cry, but there you go; those mother-emotions catching you completely off-guard! I am still crying as I sit here typing.

I found myself getting very angry (I would have liked to have said uncharacteristically angry, but sadly it seems to be my default emotion when I find myself in a slight panic) with the husband for not remembering (despite direct instructions to do so!) to tell the teacher ahead of time that we do not call our son by his first given name, but rather by his second name. In retrospect this was a stupid thing to do and I probably did not endear myself to the new teacher by the combative manner in which I pointed out to her that we don’t call him by the logic-dictated name. I felt a rising anger with his preschool teacher who seemed to think he was ready for “big school”, because although I believed it until yesterday, I am not all that sure today.

I know we all went through it, and most made it out alive, but how many of us can say that we made it through twelve years of school unscathed? Personally, I looked very much forward to my first day of grade 1, and hated every subsequent day of school. For the next twelve years of my life I hated it. Hated it. I didn’t do badly at school and no-one would have known, but still, while I know a lot of people who long back to their school years, I can unequivocally  state that I do not miss one single day of it. But today wasn’t about me as such, although one will always experience anything through one’s own framework of reference.

My little boy was not excited to go to school. Throughout the December he tried to avoid the topic as much as possible. This morning he was nearly hysterical at the thought of having to go to school. Once seated in his new strange class, among new strange non-friends, he was not happy. He was trying to be so brave while choking back the tears. He was plain scared and for the umpteenth time in his life so far, I felt so very helpless. I, supposed to be his protector and strength, could do nothing to help him today, nothing to comfort him. I feels wrong. All our little babes dressed up the same in their uniforms, preparing them to be “institutionalised” and forced into the misshapen mold of modern society, “for their own good”. Just so they may have a chance of surviving this cruel messed-up world of our making.

I hope that he will find new friends. I hope that he will be happy and enjoy learning. I hope that he is not as scared as I am today, because he is as yet oblivious to exactly what lies ahead…It seems grim, but it is just how I feel today…


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I am a quitter…

As we all skip and prance into 2017, hoping and praying it will be bigger and better than last year, I decided to start my year by quitting. Not the New Year’s resolution-type of quitting such as quitting smoking, or quitting sugar…I decided to take it up a notch and went ahead and quit my job. A brave thing by some opinions and considering I have no other source of income lined up, a particularly stupid one if you ask my husband. (And possibly my financial adviser!)

The opinions of others don’t matter though. I was unhappy and had been for a long while, so instead of carrying on whining about it, I chose to instead do something to change it. The changes I had first tried to implement to improve matters did not pan out, so I chose to walk away. Or leap…if you could see the mental image I have in head of myself free-falling down a cliff as I take my leap of faith!

So far, I have to immediate plans for the future. Half-day jobs are scarce and my son starts school this year, so it would be nice if I could pick him up from school in the afternoons instead of sending him to aftercare. It would also be a nice change to not have to leave my kids in the care of other people for up to eleven hours a day. It is hard to be a working mom – you drop the kids off before work, only to pick them up at the end of the day just as the evening routine starts; making supper, getting everyone to take their baths and then trying to persuade them to go to sleep, only to start the next morning fighting all over again to get them to wake up to leave in time.15799994_1577870905570384_6423302594904325018_o

So, for now, I am calmly waiting for the universe or God to show me where to head next. My CV is varied and interesting, but I have never done the same thing for awfully long. The only things I really want to do are reading about working with horses, working with horses and writing about working with horses! But I am open to suggestions. It will be an adventure!

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Face it, it’s not your horse…

It’s YOU!

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while as it may make me somewhat unpopular. But what the hell, here goes!

I am, as is everyone else in the horsey world, surrounded by riders, handlers and their horse’s problems. “My horse does this, should I get such and such a bit / saddle/ gadget (insert here whatever is the flavour du jour)?” “How can I get my horse to do so-and-so?” “How can I stop my horse from doing such-and-such?” “Why does my horse…” I can’t seem to make my horse…” “My horse“…seems to always be at fault. As riders and equestrians we will tell anyone and everyone who is willing to listen, that it is about the partnership we have with our horses; it’s all about the relationship. So doesn’t it seem somewhat unfair that one partner should take all the blame for when things are not going as planned?


Fair enough. If your saddle or your bridle or your bit doesn’t actually fit you horse and cause it discomfort, by all means, change it. Make sure teeth, feet, muscles and bones are healthy. And then, I am sorry to say. Learn to ride and learn to train your horse! Apart from physical discomfort, problems and issues arise through human error.

When something isn’t going to plan, how many of us grab first, the nearest stronger bit, or fancy gadget to coerce the horse into doing what we want it to. We do not stop to consider what we as riders or handlers are doing to have caused the problem in the first place. It may not be something you yourself did…it may be something someone else did to or around your horse that is making it behave in a certain manner. Horses are clever. We know this! So much of their behaviour is learnt behaviour. And horses learn new behaviours quickly.

So when your horse is not doing what you want, stop to consider WHY. When the brakes don’t work as they should, don’t automatically reach for the stronger bit. Find out why your your horse is not responding to the “stop” aid. When your horse’s head is in the air, for the sake of all that is horsey, don’t grab whatever fancy new gadget you can find in the tack shop. Just stop and think. WHY is the horse not putting its head where it should be? Fix THAT and you fix your problem. When your horse is shaking its head – have you tried keeping your hands quiet? When your horse is unbalanced on one rein, have you had your seat checked to see that you are straight? I could go on and on…but you get my drift. I may sound like some tyrannical purist when it comes to training and schooling, but honestly, when the root of the problem has not been fixed, you are just slapping a band-aid onto the bleeding gash and hoping no-one would notice. When are you crossing the line between an equal partnership to coercion?

Your horse, although a sentient and intelligent being, I grant you, really, and I mean REALLY doesn’t care about reaching the next level of competition, or bringing home the prizes and the glory. Of course he is happy when you are happy, he lives to be in harmony with you and that is probably the only reason horses tolerate the totally unnatural things we ask them to do in the first place. That little fact, so often overseen by people – that they are by nature herd animals and it is in their utmost best interest to stay within the herd and for everyone to be happy and harmonious. Horses adapt their behaviour to their surroundings and their surroundings include us. We shape (however unknowingly) how they behave with every single interaction we have with them. Every single time you work with your horse, whether it is grooming session, or simply a visit to the field to feed it carrots they learn something. Every. Single. Time. And really, it is up to you whether what they are learning is good or bad.

I find it shocking and sad how many people work with horses every day, ride and handle horses for years, without ever really thinking about how and why they do things. They have been taught to do things in a certain way and they continue to do it in that way because of their distorted view of the horse itself. There is of course those on the other side of the coin too: those that over- “huminify” (I think I may have just made that word up, but the correct term is anthropomophy) their horses and expect them to think and react as people. Yes, they are beings in their own right, but they are not people. That is my whole point. They are horses. They think like horses and they behave like horses.

Because it is we who are intruding in their lives, asking them to do more than walk around and find food, it is also up to us to make sure we understand their behaviour; the reasons why they may act in a certain manner, and then to act accordingly. With the wealth of knowlege available to our modern society, there is no excuse to plead ignorance!

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Wiser with age

pony-for-christmasPeople make such a fuss of being “old”. Movies and the mostly fake world they portray have made society in general want to look young, beautiful and thin- if you are a woman, that is. I have never been able to understand why you are not supposed to ask a lady her age. But then I guess I have never been much of a “lady” either!

There is something to be said for growing older. I don’t mean the wise old sage that is sated with wisdom. I am talking about where you are just old enough to have learnt some stuff, but young enough to be able to apply them next time around.

Although I will sometimes wistfully think of my pre-baby body, or generally just a body that healed quicker after it tumbled off a horse and made contact with the ground, I am not overly dissatisfied with what I have. I have made peace with the extra rolls, and bits of skin that were never there before and creases in skin that can no longer be smoothed away. I have made peace with the occasional aches and pains  – I mean, by stone-age standards, I would be at the end of my life right now!

I enjoy meeting new people and finding out whether they have their own opinions, or whether they have just plagiarised it from somewhere on the internet without having given it too much thought. It makes me sad that there are people much older than me, who are simply trying to put up a facade for the world and still don’t know who they truly are. But once in a while, one happens upon a youngster who seems to have it all sussed already. And I have to say, I am just a little jealous of them! As a generally insecure person, it would have been nice to know sooner that others’ opinions are just that. Opinions. And more often than not, people are not aware enough to have their own opinions anyway and will simply repeat whatever they heard someone else express. My many years of sitting on the sidelines observing, are starting to pay off.

Some things have changed, some things will never change. I still have this affliction called “horse-madness“. This inexplicable drive or draw towards anything and everything equine.  And sadly, there is no known cure….Right now, I am still very much horseless. But I am desperate not to be!

You know at some stage in your teenage years, you would “fall in love” with anything because you were so desperate to have someone who cared “just for you”. This is where I am at right now – only, it’s not about a boy, it’s about a horse. I do not currently have my own horse. That is not to say I am not riding. I am very much still riding. Which is part of the problem really. I have learned of the term of “heart horse”. It is hard to describe, but it is basically a horse that you connect with on a “soul level”, if you are inclined to believe this sort of thing. And I have come across one of these – at least I think I have. But right now, I am so desperate for that connection (that really inexplicable connection that we horsey people just can’t explain to our non-horsey friends and family) that I am liable to make utterly irresponsible decisions based on feelings that may or may not be imaginary.

I have ridden many a horse in my life, and there is always that one ride, just as you are about to give up, that reminds you why you work so hard. Everything just works! There is no arguing, no tenseness; things just fall into place and instead of being horse and rider, your are the centaur! Two minds and two bodies work in complete sync and everything you have been trying to achieve for weeks, months, or even years, just work! But now, you see, there is this horse. That I love. We have a connection on a different level. Every ride is like becoming one, thinking as one, working as one…centaur! Either that, or I have just become so used to riding really difficult horses that I just don’t know what riding a schooled horse should feel like? But the great thing is that I am self-aware enough to have figured this out all on my little own. (Let me just stop to pat myself on the back there!)

But I like the fact that in general, I know who I am. I have introspected enough over the years, after all. I mostly know what I want, and am aware enough to know that what I want is not necessarily what I need. This doesn’t stop me from trying to have my cake and eat it! But I enjoy the awareness I have of my own thoughts, my body and how the world mostly works. Sometimes I still find it excruciating that there are some “why’s” that I cannot figure out. No matter how hard I try, the rhyme and reason of things still elude me. But I do like that I have experienced enough to know, that even when things don’t make sense, they will ultimately end, and it won’t matter why they happened or didn’t happen.

So, for now, I shall sit back, wait and see whether this is one more soul that I will forever love quietly, or whether it is just a passing sense of desperation…

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